10 June 2010

this year's reflection garden at the pottstown relay for life.

this past weekend, pottstown's relay for life boomed with masses of participants and phenomenal fund-raising efforts for yet another year.  it has been reported in the pottstown mercury that the event is the top monetary gatherer in the state of pennsylvania and also claims its name as the fourth largest fundraiser across the globe.

several years ago, the coordinators asked my brothers to design a reflection garden to sit alongside the right space near the bleachers closest to the host location, the track area of pottsgrove senior high school. 

my brother matt said that as he was setting up last friday morning, he heard that people were arguing over who could camp out at the closest spots to the reflection garden, as it's lit up at night and provides a eye-pleasing view.

as our mother died from cancer after an almost eight-year battle, and the relay was very close to her heart once she began dealing with the illness when i was just 13 years old, we were all happy to do something memorable to contribute.

each year, we fill up that select plot of land at the relay with a variety of brightly colored flowers and shrubs, and usually a tree, to offer just a bit more meaningful of a place to relax in the perch of bent cypress wood chairs and also to take time to contemplate and celebrate  those who are still with us, thankfully, and the memories of those we love whom we've unfairly lost to what my mother deemed the coward

breast cancer originally plighted my mother. with chemotherapy and radiation treatments almost daily as she worked full-time, she beat the cancer (i've never quite known what to make of how we talk about cancer as if it's a war against the ingredients of a body). but when i was 17 years old, she felt awful shooting pains in her lower back, and we soon learned that the cancer had returned in her coccyx in addition to her liver. 

she continued to work a regular schedule with more chemotherapy and radiation treatments again. the strips of scars around her neck, from the radiation, she jokingly called her necklace.

shortly before i turned 21, as she was 60 years too young, a hospital bed claimed itself as her final resting place before she became coral-like ash care of the cremation process. my brother scott kept most of her newest form, and he gave me a portion of it, which i have in a ceramic jar in my living room. 

i hope to eventually spread some of the powder into the soil under the purple-blooming flowers in my garden, as that hue was her favorite color.

the pottstown relay for life meant a tremendous amount to my mother.  in fact, the last check she wrote in her checkbook was a donation to the american cancer society. her passion for supporting the relay and going to the event each year blossomed more and more at every new summer season. it felt so wrong, especially that first year she wasn't around for it, that she wasn't there supporting what she loved supporting with those who helped her to get through it all-- her fellow bosom buddies. 

there are so many metaphorical holes and empty spots in life, sometimes. but really, they're more than metaphors. 

here is a collage i made of my mother for my brother scott's birthday one year, after she had passed away. it's a bit telling, more so than she'd probably like for a public view, but i can't help wanting to show off her spirit, as i feel like it always needs more exposure in this life, since she's been gone.

oh, those metaphors. it's just that once a physical body you're used to knowing daily is gone, i guess it all kind of drifts into language and lacking shapes, absent solidity.

one of my mother's cancer pen pals, betti bauer-kaste of california, is now my pen pal. she fended off ovarian cancer before she and i discovered each other. i make sure to donate a luminaria for betti around the track each year and also for a spot in the reflection garden. i found betti's luminaria in the reflection garden, but i could not find my mother's, as it might not have been set out yet, and i arrived after work around 5.30 or 6.00 p.m. that saturday night.

my mother's ex-mother-in-law, florence hetrick, died from pancreatic cancer in 1997. as i've been more in touch lately with her daughter, jude shabrach, who used to bring homemade cherry and strawberry pies to my mother's house for her, just because she knew my mother loved them, i decided to be sure to donate a luminaria in florence's memory. 

florence sweetly treated me as her own granddaughter, even though i was not actually related to her. i know jude and i can relate in how difficult it is to cope with the grief of losing a mother, so i wanted to make sure to honor the kind-hearted florence.

another person i had a luminaria for, unfortunately with no photo, is tim homiller who died from cancer in november of last year. he lived alone, loved his pets and plants, and was our number one customer at the garden center. 

i've never seen a single same mini van in our parking lot so many times throughout a week. before he became too sick again, i'd always be lending a hand to load masses of plants into the back of his vehicle. many of my posts from last year during the busy season were of his beautiful gardens. i hope to eventually visit his house in the next few weeks to capture visuals of his vast stretches of calming landscape that flow along many a walking path. 

knowing from my own experience how hard it was losing my mother, just thinking of how many others know that similar, devastating loss, pulls me hope that the reflection garden always offers something comforting and introspective to its visitors while they're at the relay.

below is a photo of the luminaria specifically in the reflection garden, lit up at night, submitted by the event's co-chair and online chair person for 2010, cindy dawson.

"the reflection garden is actually my favorite spot," dawson said. "in fact, my tent site was right in front of it because it's so beautiful and poignant."

"i have seen some bittersweet, moving moments in the garden in addition to having them myself," dawson added, noting that the relay graced by this reflection garden makes the event just a bit more special.

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